Commentary Magazine


Contentions

George Orwell Call Your Office

Not long ago, The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) underscored its longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas by chiding the Association for Asian American Studies, which voted last year to support an academic boycott against Israel. Apparently, this rebuke did not sit well with Ashley Dawson, the editor of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which AAUP publishes. Dawson has devoted almost the whole of the current issue to the Boycott Israel movement.

The story Dawson tells about how the issue came about is revealing. The journal issued a call for papers on these questions: “How … is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom.” The call for papers identified five topics that “might be germane” to the discussion, including the AAUP’s rejection of the Boycott Israel campaign: “Can a case be made for endorsing the campaign without infringing academic freedom?”

It turns out the answer is yes. No one should be surprised. Dawson, as he unbelievably fails to disclose in the introduction to the issue, has endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI) and edited a 2012 volume entitled Why Boycott Israel?: A Dossier on Palestine Today. Similarly, no one will be surprised that seven of the nine articles in this issue on globalization and academic freedom are devoted to the Boycott Israel movement. Evidently Israel is responsible not only for the problems of the entire Middle East but also for at least 7/9 of the problems posed for academics by globalization.

Or perhaps, I should say 6/9, since Dawson admirably includes one mild defense of the AAUP’s position among the 7 essays. The remainder were penned by, and I am not kidding: a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; a founding committee member of USCABI, an advisory board member of USCABI; an endorser of that same campaign who also signed the Association for Asian American Studies boycott resolution; a signatory of a 2009 letter to then President-Elect Obama, gently urging him to view Israel as the perpetrator of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times”; a former contributor to the Electronic Intifada, and another Electronic Intifada contributor who wrote “Answering Critics of the Boycott Movement.”

Of course, the authors repeat the same old canards. The pro-BDS position is suppressed, they freely say in the journal of an organization that opposes their position. Israel itself does not honor academic freedom, they say, though Freedom House, an organization not at all shy about criticizing Israel, calls Israel’s universities “centers of dissent.”

But it is not my intention to rejoin the debate between Israel and its radical critics. Instead, I want to draw attention to the remarkable self-caricature over which Ashley Dawson has presided, an issue purportedly devoted to “sparking a broad conversation” about “academic freedom and faculty rights beyond U.S. borders” that focuses almost entirely on Israel and consists mainly of essays written by declared supporters of and leading activists within the BDS movement. I do not think it would be fruitful for AAUP’s editorial board to condemn the mockery that has here been made of AAUP’s devotion to “the free search for truth” by an editor with no qualms about turning its flagship publication into a vehicle for his personal anti-Israel activism. Dawson at least makes it clear that the publication of this issue “does not necessarily indicate any change in AAUP policy or even an intention to directly consider such change.” But one does wish that individual members of the board would rouse themselves, not to make the case for Israel, but to make the case against devoting a journal purportedly devoted to “scholarship” to a barely disguised hit job.

CORRECTION: Although the book, Why Boycott Israel? A Dossier on Palestine Today, appeared on two current versions of Ashley Dawson’s c.v. at the time of posting, Dawson denies having edited such a book and knowledge of how it got on to his c.v. The book apparently does not exist. I apologize for the error.